US drone strikes have killed at least eight suspected al-Qaeda fighters in Yemen, local officials say, bringing the number of people killed by drones in less than two weeks to at least 25.
The strikes follow Yemen’s announcement on Wednesday that it had foiled a plot by al-Qaeda to seize two major oil and gas export terminals and a provincial capital in the east of the country.
Warnings of potential attacks have pushed the US to shut missions across the Middle East, and the US and Britain to evacuate staff from Yemen.
Witnesses and local officials in Marib, a mostly desert region where fighters have taken refuge, said a drone fired at two vehicles suspected of carrying al-Qaeda fighters at dawn, killing six people.
Residents saw the two vehicles rise in flames and the drone circled the air for a while after the attack.
Another two were killed in the eastern region of Hadramout, local officials said.
At least 25 suspected fighters have been killed since July 28, when a drone strike killed at least four members of Ansar al-Sharia, a local armed group affiliated to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), one of the most active branches of the network founded by Osama bin Laden.
Yemen, one of the poorest Arab countries, is one of handful of countries where Washington acknowledges targeting suspected fighters with strikes by drone aircraft, although it does not comment publicly on the practice.
US sources have told Reuters news agency that intercepted communication between bin Laden’s successor as al-Qaeda leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, and AQAP was one part of the intelligence behind the alert last week that prompted the closure of the embassies.
Security in Yemen is a global concern. The country shares a long border with Saudi Arabia, a US ally and the world’s top oil exporter.
The US government supports Yemeni forces with funds and logistical support.
Yemeni authorities issued a statement on Tuesday listing 25 “most wanted terrorists” it said were planning to carry out attacks in the country during the Muslim Eid al-Fitr holiday which started Thursday.
They offered a five million Yemeni riyals ($23,000) bounty for information leading to their capture.